Tofu isn't the kind of product you'd immediately associate with Hollywood. But when the movie is DreamWorks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda 2" (opening in theaters on May 26), the match-up's logic is clear.
The main character in the Kung Fu Panda movies, Po, grew up working in his family's tofu and noodle shop, on his way to becoming a legend.
The connection was obviously clear to DreamWorks, which approached House Foods America Corporation -- a nearly 30-year-old company specializing in tofu products -- and struck a partnership deal spanning coupons, a dedicated microsite, special packaging and print, online and out-of-home advertising.
House Foods America may not yet have the name recognition of some other food makers, but it has annual sales of $70 million, and its volume and dollar sales grew more than 10% last year. (It's a division of the much older corporation House Foods Japan, which has annual sales of some $2.5 billion.)
As Retail Merchandiser recently pointed out, House Foods America's growth is partly due to the rapid growth of the Asian-American population, particularly in certain markets (New Jersey's Asian-American population has grown more than 30% since the last U.S. Census).
But the company is also seeing small increases in other consumer segments. This partially reflects its targeting of specific consumer groups through its product offerings. Examples include a line of gourmet soy products (So-Yah) launched last year; a crispy, organic tofu cutlet designed to tap the mainstream interest in organics; ready-to-eat Tofu Shirataki Noodles (free of preservatives, MSG, cholesterol and gluten, as well as vegetarian and high-fiber); and a line of 16-ounce tofu products that meet the criteria for the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) assistance program.
The other component of the growth equation is employing somewhat tailored marketing approaches for Asians, Caucasians and Hispanics. For general market purposes, for example, House Foods has used billboards and bus ads to convey messages like "3G": tofu is gluten-free, guilt-free and "gimmick-free." (The 3G campaign won a gold MarCom Award last year.)
Not surprisingly, the company is looking to capitalize on both the healthier eating and ecological awareness trends that should work very much in tofu's favor. Tofu is high-protein and high-fiber, and is a far more sustainable food than traditional American protein staples like beef and chicken. (Producing 1 kilogram of beef takes 11 kilograms of grain, whereas House Foods can produce 3 kilograms of tofu from 1 kilogram of soybeans.)
The DreamWorks partnership represents a significant investment in reaching out to and educating a broader base of consumers about the benefits of tofu, how it is prepared, and House Foods' range of user-friendly products.
"'Kung Fu Panda 2' and Po are a natural, organic fit for the House Foods' product line," sums up House Foods America marketing supervisor Yoko Difrancia. "The film, featuring the food-loving panda, is a great way to introduce families and kids to tofu and its myriad health benefits. By positioning tofu as a nutritious, powerful food that keeps warriors such as Po and the Furious Five kung fu ready for any adventure that comes their way, we hope families and kids nationwide will discover tofu's potential as a superfood."
The campaign kicked off in mid-April with a nationwide FSI newspaper coupon ad and the launch of a microsite (kungfutofu2.com) that reflects the Kung Fu Panda characters' world. The site provides a "tofupedia" area with comprehensive information about tofu, an "ask the soy dietician" area, recipes, a digital cookbook, an FAQ, news and coupons -- in addition to a traffic-/engagement-driving sweepstakes with a grand prize of a trip for four to China.
House Foods has released limited-edition packaging for its Premium and Organic tofu products that features the Po character, and is a key traffic-driver for the microsite, according to Difrancia.
Print and online ads in media brands including CookingLight.com, Supermarket News, Chopsticks, Edible SF, Edible East Bay and Edible Sacramento began in April and run through May. Outdoor ads ran mid-April through mid-May on the New Jersey Lincoln Tunnel billboard, Manhattan Gray Line buses, the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Oakland/East Bay Highway 880.
While House Foods America is still developing its social media presence, DreamWorks' site for the movie features the company (including a link to its microsite) as one of the movie's sponsors, reports Difrancia.
In addition, in the fall, House Foods will launch a second marketing phase timed to coincide with the DVD release of "Kung Fu Panda 2." Those efforts will feature House Foods' Mabo Tofu Sauce mix varieties, as well as its tofu products.